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Police scanners could go silent

In Pasadena, the police have switched from analog to digitally encrypted digital radios, which can’t be picked up by scanners used by reporters, editors and photographers. This could be the beginning of a trend because police and fire departments are under pressure from the federal government to upgrade their radio systems to digital. In the process of switching to digital scanners, police departments have the choice of encrypting their transmissions or keeping them public.

The pressure to upgrade police radio systems stems from problems during the World Trade Center collapse when fire and medical personnel from different agencies couldn’t talk to one another during that disaster. Congress, which wants to be seen as “doing something” in response to that tragedy, is pushing all public safety agencies to upgrade their equipment to digital. Equipment manufacturers, such as Motorola, are lobbying hard for the upgrade so they can sell more equipment.

In Pasadena, the city is promising to eventually lease receivers to news organizations so that they can continue to monitor encrypted police and fire calls, according to the Pasadena Star News. But until that happens, “newspapers will have to wait on press releases,” said Shawn West, head of West Information Systems, which monitors radio traffic there.

The Pasadena Star News story quotes that city’s telecommunications supervisor, Stephen Page, as saying that digital systems rolled out in the Bay Area have been crippled by cellphone jamming equipment. “If someone really wants to jam our system, they can,” Page said.

In September, BANG reporters Josh Richman, Thomas Peele and John Woolfolk reported on the progress Bay Area police and fire agencies were making upgrading their radio systems.

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